Jul 30th 2016

Defeating ISIS And Ending Sunni-Shiite War In Iraq

by Alon Ben-Meir

A noted journalist and author, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is professor of international relations and Middle East studies at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University. Ben-Meir holds a masters degree in philosophy and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University. His exceptional knowledge and insight, the result of more than 20 years of direct involvement in foreign affairs, with a focus on the Middle East, has allowed Dr. Ben-Meir to offer a uniquely invaluable perspective on the nature of world terrorism, conflict resolution and international negotiations. Fluent in Arabic and Hebrew, Ben-Meir's frequent travels to the Middle East and meetings with highly placed officials and academics in many Middle Eastern countries including Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Turkey provide him with an exceptionally nuanced level of awareness and insight into the developments surrounding breaking news. Ben-Meir often articulates

Now that Iraqi forces, with the support of the international coalition, are gearing up to recapture Mosul—ISIS’s last major stronghold in Iraq—the question that looms high is what will be the fate of the Iraqi Sunni community following ISIS’s inevitable defeat? I maintain that unless the political discussion begins now between the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government and the Sunnis (under the auspices of the US) to determine the fate of the Sunni community, defeating ISIS alone will not end the ongoing Sunni-Shiite civil war in Iraq that has claimed the lives of tens of thousands since 2003.

As long as the Iraqi Sunnis do not know what the future has in store for them, they have no reason to put their lives on the line to fight against ISIS and make all the sacrifices only to benefit the Shiite government in Baghdad, which they reject and despise even more so than ISIS.

The Obama administration should, parallel to the fight against ISIS, immediately start to negotiate the future status of the Sunni Iraqis with the Iraqi government and agree on establishing an autonomous region in their three provinces—Ninevah, Salahildin, and Diyala—to run their own affairs along the lines of Kurdish autonomy in the north, with a loose connection to the central government in Baghdad.

For this to succeed, it will be necessary to provide the Sunnis, soon after the defeat of ISIS, with substantial financial aid to build the institutions they need during a transitional period of five to ten years, including health care facilities, schools, and social services to buttress the foundation for the establishment of such autonomy.

To assume that Iraq will somehow be stitched together following the defeat of ISIS is a gross illusion, as Iraq’s de facto partition into three states was ordained immediately following the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Liberating Mosul from ISIS will be extremely difficult under any circumstances. Indeed, for ISIS the fight over Mosul is a do-or-die battle and they should be expected to resort to any means at their disposal, however cruel and inhumane, to deny the coalition and Iraqi forces from realizing their objective.

The fight can be expected to be street-to-street and house-to-house, with many thousands of potential civilian casualties while likely destroying much of the city’s infrastructure.

The only way to reduce the scale of devastation and bring a gradual end to the Sunni-Shiite civil war in Iraq is to entice the Sunni communities inside and outside Mosul to join the fight. This, however, comes at a price that the central Iraqi government must be prepared to pay, which is negotiating the establishment of an autonomous Sunni region in their three provinces.

The capture of Mosul by ISIS had precipitated the exodus of hundreds of thousands of minorities, including Turkmen, Yazidis, Christians, Shiites, and others. As a result, the Sunni community still constitutes the absolute majority of the population. Due to their concerns over continuing instability, discrimination, and bloodshed, many who fled will not be able or willing to return after the defeat of ISIS.

To that end, as a former top Iraqi official said to me, there is a need for an “urgent comprehensive dialogue between the stakeholders to align [the] political roadmap to the military liberation [of Mosul] roadmap.”

Among the more than 700,000 Sunnis currently residing in Mosul, nearly 100,000 are of fighting age who can join the fight against ISIS from inside the city if they see a clear path that would lead them to the establishment of a self-governing entity.

This will not only accelerate the demise of ISIS and potentially reduce the level of death and destruction, but will eventually bring a gradual end to the Sunni-Shiite civil war. The same source stated that “Iraqi officials need to embrace a new culture of dialogue and compromise to project to its constituency its ability to adapt to the needs of its people’s welfare.”

Having lost their dominance of Iraq to the Shiites in 2003 after 81 years of continuous rule, the Sunnis still refuse to accept what they consider to be a historic travesty. This was further aggravated by eight years of the Shiite government led by Nouri al-Maliki, who abused his power and marginalized, mistreated, and victimized the Sunni community.

Sadly, the mistreatment of the Sunnis continued under the current Abadi government in spite of the fact that the US pressured Abadi to establish a unity government united in their purpose, given the necessity of defeating ISIS as a prerequisite to stabilizing the country.

The presumed ‘unity government’ in Iraq that the US sought is a farce. The Sunnis will never accept a subordinated position to the Shiites knowing that, at least for the foreseeable future, they will continue to suffer under the heavy hand of a Shiite government.

Prime Minister Abadi is weak, his government is largely corrupt, and has done little to pacify the Sunni community. Iran continues to exert significant political influence in Baghdad, engendered from religious affinity and the fact that Iran provided shelter to thousands of Iraqi exiles during Saddam’s reign.

Now that Iran is actively participating in the fight against ISIS through its militia, to which the US has quietly acquiesced, the Sunnis do not view Iran’s involvement and its considerable influence on Iraq as transient. As a result, the Sunnis find themselves inadvertently and often voluntarily supporting ISIS, as they are more religiously aligned with ISIS than with the Iraqi Shiites.

Knowing the Shiites in Iraq will remain the dominant power, the majority of the Sunni Arab states, led by the Saudis, strongly feel that the establishment of Sunni autonomy will limit Iran’s significant influence over the Shiite Iraqi government.

There is no doubt that the future of Mosul following the defeat of ISIS will seriously be contested and the Iraqi government will resist any arrangement that will not restore Mosul as an integral part of Iraq.

I believe, however, that there will be no end to the Sunni-Shiite violent conflict unless the city of Mosul, which is in the center of the Sunni Ninevah province, becomes the provincial capital of the newly established Sunni entity.

The central issue that must be incorporated into any agreement on Sunni independence is major foreign investments, and in particular the equitable distribution of the country’s oil revenue, which would require a strict, internationally guarded, and binding mechanism from the UN Security Council to ensure permanent and full implementation.

An equitable agreement on sharing oil revenue could also pave the way to better and closer relations between the Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites, which will lead to greater cooperation in many other fields, including joint economic development programs, security cooperation, trade, etc.

The Obama administration lacked a clear strategy in Iraq, to which President Obama admitted in early 2015. Now that the conditions on the ground have changed and ISIS is on retreat, Obama can help with the full support of its coalition partners in shaping Iraq’s future by negotiating a new political arrangement with Iraq’s central government that will grant the Iraqi Sunni community autonomous rule.

This may well be the only practical recipe that will bring about the defeat of ISIS and end the vicious Sunni-Shiite civil war in Iraq and other Arab states.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Jun 25th 2020
EXTRACT: "The facts are clear: the wealthiest 0.54%, about 40 million people, are responsible for 14% of lifestyle-related greenhouse gas emissions, while the bottom 50% of income earners, almost 4 billion people, only emit around 10%. The world’s top 10% income earners are responsible for at least 25% and up to 43% of our environmental impact. Most people living in developed countries would fit into this category, meaning you don’t have to consider yourself rich in order to be globally affluent. Even many poorer people in wealthy countries have a disproportionately large and unsustainable resource footprint compared to the global average."
Jun 24th 2020
EXTRACT: "To be sure, the American Dream was always more aspiration than reality. Economic, social, and intergenerational mobility have always fallen short of what the myth of the self-made man or woman would lead one to expect. But with social mobility now declining as inequality rises, today’s young people are right to be angry."
Jun 19th 2020
EXTRACT: "There is only one way to repair America’s reputation, regain the trust of allies, and ensure that the US can act as an effective counterweight to China: address the root causes of the cracks that Trump’s disastrous presidency has exposed and widened. This is in line with the vision advanced in 2011 by two military strategists, Captain Wayne Porter and Colonel Mark Mykleby, using the pseudonym “Mr. Y.” Porter and Mykleby argued that national security depends not only on the capacity to respond to threats from foreign powers, but also – and perhaps more important – on the “application of credible influence and strength.” That influence, in turn, depends on America’s success in providing a “pathway of promise” for US citizens – and a model for the world."
Jun 14th 2020
EXTRACT: "The most critical question then is not how far Trump will go to promote his treasonous agenda, but for how long Republican leaders will silently accept and subserviently enable Trump to destroy the basic moral tenets and values on which this Union was founded, and which they swore to uphold and protect...............Of course, shame on us if we continue to be surprised by Republicans’ continuing silence, because as we all know, even when presented with overwhelming evidence that Trump committed crimes against the American people, Trump’s Republican stooges in the Senate exonerated him following impeachment almost unanimously...................The Republican leadership, to be sure, has made its bed. It has committed moral suicide. History will judge them harshly for their treason and betrayal of the nation, including all of those who have lived and died throughout our history to foster and protect our safety, integrity, and freedom."
Jun 9th 2020
EXTRACT: " Governments can do nothing about the quotidian offenses of living as a black person in America – the empty taxis that refuse to stop, being mistaken for employees in supermarkets, the myriad intentional and unintentional insults. Many now in the streets won’t be satisfied unless the result of this national spasm is improved schools, health care, and job opportunities for minorities – a fair shake for black people. What will happen when America once again falls short of honoring its professed values?."
Jun 8th 2020
EXTRACT: "It should be apparent to most observers of international relations that the Chinese government wants the world to play by its own set of rules. Beijing appears to believe that China’s rise and its assumption of global leadership positions are an inevitable extension of earlier periods in its history, when it was the world’s most powerful country. This is often at odds with the global norms that have been established – with China’s participation, it is worth adding – since the 1940s. While this is clearly the Chinese century, few outside of China would agree that Beijing’s global leadership is either inevitable or necessarily desired – certainly not on the Chinese government’s terms."
Jun 4th 2020
EXTRACT: "Many Americans are clearly horrified by their president’s crass and incendiary words. But will their disapproval be offset by anxiety about violent social unrest? Will age-old racial prejudices, often unspoken, or even acknowledged, still make them vote for the false security of a coarse white bully?  Much will depend on how hot this summer gets. If people think rationally in November, it is hard to imagine that enough of them would vote to keep this appalling administration in power for another four years. But fear is reason’s worst enemy."
Jun 2nd 2020
EXTRACT: "For starters, many Americans have accepted that they live in a winner-takes-all society of deepening inequality. While the wealth and incomes of those at the very top continue to grow, tens of millions of Americans struggle to afford health care, childcare, and other basic goods. This story has been told many times over. But what often goes unremarked is that the responsibility for managing the social costs of this system has been offloaded onto the police."
May 27th 2020
EXTRACT: "Obamagate is the latest conspiracy theory to be pushed by US president, Donald Trump. It started on the morning of May 10, when Trump retweeted the word “OBAMAGATE!” By the next day, the Obamagate hashtag had accrued over two million tweets and another four million by the end of the week. Trump has repeatedly reused the slogan on his Twitter feed since and it has been promoted by right-wing influencers including Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and many others....You are not alone if you’re confused by what Obamagate actually is or why Trump is tweeting about it."
May 23rd 2020
EXTRACT: "Not all aspects of our near and medium-term future can be foreseen at this juncture of the Covid-19 pandemic, but we now know enough to make some hypotheses about what is likely to change, based on what has already changed. The future is sure to look very different than it did before this decade began, regardless of whether a vaccine is found. If a vaccine is found, it is unlikely to be tested, approved, manufactured, and efficiently distributed to the world’s population of nearly 8 billion people for years. Bearing in mind that there is no vaccine for any coronavirus, what is likelier is that the world will be living with Covid-19 as a part of our ecosystem for many years to come – possibly permanently. That means that our new normal is probably already here."
May 21st 2020
EXTRACT: "LONDON – The new Franco-German proposal for a €500 billion ($547 billion) European recovery fund could turn out to be the most important historic consequence of the coronavirus. It is even conceivable that the deal struck between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron might one day be remembered as the European Union’s “Hamiltonian moment,” comparable to the 1790 agreement between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson on public borrowing, which helped to turn the United States, a confederation with little central government, into a genuine political federation."
May 19th 2020
EXTRACT: "In April 2011, Donald Trump, then considering a run for the presidency the following year, said that he had sent investigators to Hawaii to check out rumors that President Barack Obama wasn’t born there, but in Kenya, which would disqualify him for the presidency. His investigators, Trump declared, “cannot believe what they’re finding.” I can find no record of Trump being challenged on this outlandish claim at the time. In the fall of 2016, Trump, now the Republican presidential nominee, was convinced by his staff that he had to abandon this “birther” nonsense. He did so reluctantly, charging – also with no evidence – that such rumors had actually been initiated by his opponent, Hillary Clinton. There, in a nutshell, is Trump’s modus operandi: he’s not just a liar but a fabulist, seemingly unconcerned with whether his fictions will be exposed. If they are, the world simply moves on as he invents fresh distractions."
May 19th 2020
EXTRACT: "Li, a doctor, was purportedly silenced and chastised by Chinese officials for warning on December 30, 2019, about a new virus in the Wuhan hospital where he worked. When it became evident that he was on to something serious – so serious, in fact, that it ultimately killed him – the Chinese government changed its tune and celebrated Li’s bravery. If only that had happened sooner, the argument goes, the world would have avoided this horrific pandemic.................... But that’s not what happened."
May 9th 2020
EXTRACT: "Jana Winter and Hunter Walker at Yahoo News broke the story that 11 Secret Service agents have tested positive for the coronavirus. Likely some of them served in the West Wing. This week it was revealed at that a US military valet who brought Trump food came down with the virus, sending Trump into a “lava level” rage. Two aides to Vice President Mike Pence have tested positive. Some observers are afraid that the virus is circulating in the West Wing itself."
May 6th 2020
EXTRACT: "There has been much debate around the world about the source of the COVID-19 pandemic, ranging from a laboratory to Wuhan’s seafood market to some other form of animal-to-human transmission. While there is no proof (yet) that the virus may have been inadvertently released from one of the two biological research laboratories located at Wuhan, there is evidence that viral release has occurred in the past, and a host of additional data that point to a laboratory connection. "
May 4th 2020
EXTRACT: "A better bet is that nothing will be the same. Wealth will be destroyed on a catastrophic scale, and policymakers will need to find a way to ensure that, at least in some cases, creditors take part of the hit, a process that will play out over years of negotiation and litigation. For bankruptcy lawyers and lobbyists, it will be a bonanza, part of which will come from pressing taxpayers to honor bailout guarantees. Such a scenario would be an unholy mess."
Apr 29th 2020
EXTRACT: "We need the twenty-first century’s two superpowers, America and China, to set the example, by burying their rivalry and uniting all of humankind around a collective response to the current crisis, and to those that await us. As COVID-19 has taught us, the old international system can no longer guarantee humankind’s safety and security. We cannot afford to be taught that lesson twice."
Apr 29th 2020
EXTRACT: "It should come as no surprise that Trump has abused his power in orchestrating the federal response to the pandemic. For example, he made sure that Colorado received 100 much-needed ventilators, and made sure that Colorado voters knew it, in order to help re-elect troubled incumbent Republican senator Cory Gardner.  More alarming, Trump effectively threatened to wage germ warfare against US Postal Service workers by denying them congressionally approved virus-mitigation aid unless the USPS quadrupled rates on packages. Trump’s actual target was Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon and owner of The Washington Post."
Apr 28th 2020
EXTRACT: "These ten risks, already looming large before COVID-19 struck, now threaten to fuel a perfect storm that sweeps the entire global economy into a decade of despair. By the 2030s, technology and more competent political leadership may be able to reduce, resolve, or minimize many of these problems, giving rise to a more inclusive, cooperative, and stable international order. But any happy ending assumes that we find a way to survive the coming Greater Depression."
Apr 26th 2020
EXTRACT: "In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the US Federal Reserve will buy unlimited quantities of Treasury bonds, the Bank of England will purchase £200 billion ($250 billion) of gilts, and the European Central Bank up to €750 billion ($815 billion) of eurozone bonds. Almost certainly, central banks will end up providing monetary finance to fund fiscal deficits. The only question is whether they should make that explicit."